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Why are there so few French place-names in England?: An analysis of Anglo-Norman elements in English place-names as a result of the Norman Conquest

  • David Trotter


The Norman Conquest of 1066 has left a considerable mark on the English landscape (in the form of cathedrals, churches, and castles) and had a massive impact on the English language. Both of these are visible (and audible) today. It is well known that a very sizeable percentage of the vocabulary of Modern English is of French origin. What is generally realised less is the extent to which these are not loanwords in the conventional sense (that is, words incorporated from a foreign language) but terms taken over into English at a time of sustained language contact between English and French, when the two languages coexisted on English soil. Recent advances in lexicography, in the Oxford English Dictionary in particular, now make it possible to track much more precisely the processes which have led to this massive incursion of French terminology into English. Generally speaking, it is normally assumed that Anglo-Norman was a predominantly urban vernacular (Short, 2009), a view which some recent work has challenged (Rothwell 2008, 2009, 2012; Trotter 2012a, 2012b, 2013).


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AN = Anglo-Norman
AND = Anglo-Norman Dictionary,
AS = Anglo-Saxon
Ch = Cheshire
Cu = Cumberland
Db = Derbyshire
Ess = Essex
FEW = von Wartburg, W. 1922–2002. Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. Bonn/Leipzig/Basel: Zbinden.
f.n. = field-name
Gdf = Godefroy, F. 1880–1902. Dictionnaire de l'Ancienne Langue Française et de tous ses Dialectes du IXe au XVe Siècles. Paris: Vieweg.
Gl = Gloucestershire
Hrt = Hertfordshire
L = Latin
MED = Middle English Dictionary. Online at <> (Accessed January 6, 2014).
O = Oxfordshire
OED = Oxford English Dictionary. Online at <> (Accessed January 6, 2014).
OF = Old French
ONFr = Old northern French
PNCu = Armstrong, A. M., Mawer, A., Stenton, F.M. & Dickins, B. 1950–1952. The Place-Names of Cumberland (English Place-Name Society, Volumes XX–XXII). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
PNWe = Smith, A. H. 1967. The Place-Names of Westmorland (English Place-Name Society, Volumes XLII-XLIII). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
RN = Ekwall, E. 1928. English River-Names. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Rothwell, W. 2008. ‘Anglo-French in rural England in the later thirteenth century: Walter of Bibbesworth's Tretiz and the Agricultural Treatises.’ Vox Romanica, 68, 100–32.
Rothwell, W. 2009. ‘Soil and toil : English and French in the English countryside during the later Middle Ages.’ English Studies, 90, 379402.
Rothwell, W. 2012. ‘Language and society in post-Conquest England : farming and fishing.’ Modern Language Review, 107, 389407.
SED = Orton, H., Barry, M. V., Dieth, E., Halliday, W. J., Tilling, P. M., Wakelin, M. F. 1962–1968. Survey of English Dialects. Leeds: E.J. Arnold.
Short, I. 2009. ‘Anglici loqui nesciunt : monoglots in Anglo-Norman England.’ Cultura Neolatina, 69, 245–62.
s.n. = street-name
TL = Tobler, A. & Lommatzsch, E. 1925–2002. Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch. Berlin/Wiesbaden: Steiner.
Trotter, D., 2012a. ‘L'anglo-normand dans le Middle English Dictionary.’ In Dörr, S. & Städtler, T. (eds.), Ki Bien Voldreit Raisun Entendre : Mélanges en l'Honneur du 70e Anniversaire de Frankwalt Möhren. Strasbourg: Éditions de Linguistique et de Philologie, pp. 323–37.
Trotter, D. 2012b. ‘Saunz desbriser de hay ou de clos : clos(e) in Anglo-French and in English.’ In Lange, C., Weber, B. & Wolf, G. (eds.), Communicative Spaces : Variation, Contact, and Change : Papers in Honour of Ursula Schaefer. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, pp. 197214.
Trotter, D. 2013. ‘L'anglo-normand à la campagne.’ Comptes-rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions 2012, II (avril-juin), 1113–31.
VEPN 3 = Parsons, D. 2004. The Vocabulary of English Place-Names (CEAFOR–COCK-PIT). Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.
We = Westmorland.
Zachrisson, R. E. 1909. A Contribution to the Study of Anglo-Norman Influence on English Place-Names. Lund: Ohlsson.
Zachrisson, R. E. 1929. ‘The French element.’ In Mawer, A. & Stanton, F. M. (eds.), Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names. Part 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 93114.

Why are there so few French place-names in England?: An analysis of Anglo-Norman elements in English place-names as a result of the Norman Conquest

  • David Trotter


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